Sixteeen Nike-sponsored universities from eight college conferences are getting closer to creating a branded tournament as a tribute to Nike co-founder Phil Knight in 2017, ESPN reported yesterday. The names, as expected, are some of the biggest headliners in college basketball — Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky included. Technically, it will be two eight-team tournaments because NCAA rules prohibit two teams from the same conference playing at the same regular-season tournament. Working around that means the party for Knight’s 80th birthday is ready to go, as long as it can find a TV partner (and ESPN is very interested).
Knight turns 80 in February 2018, but although he’s been a pioneer for some of the most audacious projects in sports in his 48 years since the company’s founding as Blue Ribbon Sports, he didn’t think this up. That credit is due to Michigan State’s AD, Mark Hollis, who has commitments from the schools for this. They are: Kentucky, Florida, Michigan State, Ohio State, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgetown, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford, Oregon, Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga and Portland.
It might not just be limited to these 16, ESPN reported Hollis as saying. Eight other Nike schools could arrive for a, technically, third tournament. The biggest fear here, for me, is that this — while well intentioned as a hat tip to Knight’s support — will bring to college hoops what the ABCD and Nike summer camps were to high school hoops in the mid-200s. High school players had to choose their alliance before they even knew where they’d be attending. The zero-chance of crossover between camps and recruits did little for fans. The reason why college basketball in November is the best thing until March is the matchup possibilities, regardless of affiliation — take last fall’s Kentucky vs. Kansas game at Madison Square Garden that came as part of the State Farm Champions Classic. The basketball could be an amazing spring preview, but would it be worth it if Under Armour and Adidas tournaments begin proprietary tournaments, too? Adidas has its North American HQ in Portland. With teams from so many conferences in this Nike tournament, maybe it doesn’t really matter it’s all under one umbrella after all.
The biggest names are staggering here, of course. But how good would this tournament be, from a basketball level? Five years is no longer one recruit’s life cycle at the most high-profile school — Kentucky could feasibly continue its one-and-done streak of the past two seasons into 2017. Pac-12 basketball could go in any number of ways in five years given its up (UCLA Final Four run) and down (barely two teams in last year’s NCAA Tourney) but Oregon and Stanford wouldn’t necessarily be teams you might think of as nominees. Both schools, however, have been attended by Knight and each has received single, $100-million plus donations from him. Oregon was not going to be left out of this tournament. Portland is the biggest to benefit from this arrangement as the hometown team in a conference dominated by one invited squad (Gonzaga), though the Pilots are not roll-over material in the least.
The kind of basketball played here could be adjusted by any number of coaching changes could change the power of this lineup come 2017. Connecticut could be coached by someone other than Jim Calhoun, John Calipari may have moved on from Kentucky, and Mike Krzyzewski seems to never age but would be 70 at tipoff.
Based in Beaverton, the tournament will be about a 20-minute drive away from Nike HQ at Portland’s Rose Garden and Memorial Coliseum, which has last seen high-level basketball when the Trail Blazers held exhibition games there in 2010. While there is no mention of whether this could be a multi-year tournament — and maybe shifting power away from the Great Alaska Shootout, Maui Invitational and Coaches vs. Cancer tournaments of the preseason world — another of Hollis’ inventions has gone from one-off to still going. Michigan State and North Carolina’s game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson last November, a huge hit, has led it to continue into 2013.
What do you think?
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